Artistry in the kitchen: Carolyn Bianchi Ferguson

Artistry in the kitchen: Carolyn Bianchi Ferguson

Artistry in the kitchen: Carolyn Bianchi Ferguson

Carolyn Bianchi Ferguson seems perpetually in motion, but she also can stop on a dime and focus. The 36-year-old needs to be good at doing both.

In 2005, Ferguson and her husband, Howard, launched Belle Epicurean, a French bakery and café at 1206 Fourth Ave. in the Fairmont Hotel. In September, a second Belle Epicurean opened its doors at 3109 E. Madison St. in Madison Park, slated for a mid-December expansion to include a wine bar.

All this, while rearing two young children and making it work.

The Seattle native allows, “All my life I’ve wanted to do this. I cooked with my mother at home, and I just loved it. One day, I was telling her this is what I wanted to do, and she said, ‘Sure, do it.’”

Sounds easy. Hard work, steely commitment and an artist’s touch drive the backstory, however.

After graduating from Seattle Prep, Ferguson headed to Washington State University to study hotel and hospitality management, considered one of the top programs of its kind in the country.

After graduation, Ferguson returned to work in Seattle’s restaurant universe before setting out for Paris to study at the renowned Le Cordon Bleu, a move that took considerable pluck: When she arrived in the City of Light, the 24-year-old didn’t speak a lick of French.

Ferguson not only learned French but also met fellow student and future husband, Howard, there, and earned the prestigious Le Grand Diplome with degrees in French cuisine and patisserie.

So began a partnership that took the pair to New Orleans, where they married and opened a French bistro a few months before 9/11.

Like so many other post-9/11 business stories, that one didn’t work out.

Ferguson figured she and Howard would keep traveling while riding the current of their dreams. Approaching Seattle on Interstate 90 on a sunny day in May, however, Ferguson said her husband, a Chicago native, glimpsed the Olympic Mountains towering in the distance and pretty much said: This is the place.

Ferguson, at first unsure about settling back down in Seattle, says she now counts her blessings for being here.

The couple started selling their brioches at the University District Farmers Market in 2003. Demand ran so high Belle Epicurean was born two years later. 

The Belle Epicurean kitchen lies behind unmarked doors in the post-industrial warrens of Georgetown, where a high-energy crew fashions the popular brioche creations (aka “Belle’s Buns”) that launched the business.

Over it all, Ferguson is a kinetic presence in tennis shoes, moving around the kitchen guiding, tasting and joking with her crew. 

“It’s incredible to do what you always wanted to do,” Ferguson says. “You’re taking something you’ve always believed in and are making it happen.”

Try this at home: 

Carolyn Ferguson’s

French-Style Butter Shortbread


2 sticks salted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 large egg yolk

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds removed

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted


Cream the butter with the sugars and salt until very pale in color — about 5 minutes on high speed. Add the egg yolk and vanilla. Mix to combine. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Add the flour in two batches. Mix on low speed only to combine — do not overmix.

Grease the sides and bottom of a shortbread ring or muffin cup (if you do not own a shortbread ring). Portion into 1/2-ounce balls (this is about a generous tablespoon). Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from rings, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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